Category-free travel needed as Covid impact on Stansted revealed

Owners of Stansted Airport want restriction-free travel for low risk destinations 

Owners of Stansted Airport want restriction-free travel for low risk destinations - Credit: LONDON STANSTED AIRPORT

Owners of London Stansted are calling for a new restriction-free travel category to help the aviation industry after revealing passenger numbers at the airport have dropped 95%.

MAG, the UK’s largest airport group, said since the aviation industry had suffered virtual shutdown at the start of the pandemic a year ago, its passenger numbers at its airports had dwindled from four million to 140,000 a month.

At Stansted, the figure was 44,259 this March, compared with over 800,000 a year earlier – a 95% drop.

MAG wants greater cooperation between the UK government and its overseas counterparts, to share information about the emergence of new Covid-19 variants of concern and eliminate the need for travellers to take expensive PCR tests on their return.

Charlie Cornish, the Chief Executive Officer of Manchester Airports Group, owners of London Stansted Airport

Charlie Cornish, the Chief Executive Officer of Manchester Airports Group, owners of London Stansted Airport. - Credit: MAG

Currently, the UK Government proposes that all passengers – even those returning from the lowest risk ‘green’ destinations – will have to take a PCR test.

MAG – the owner of Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports – said the framework should be improved urgently to include a fourth, restriction-free category capitalising on the success of the UK’s world-leading vaccination programme.

Doing so would remove significant personal cost to passengers and inject much-needed confidence into the UK aviation sector ahead of what will be a critical summer season.

The Stansted Airport control tower. Picture: WILL LODGE

The Stansted Airport control tower - Credit: WILL LODGE

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Charlie Cornish, CEO, MAG said“The UK government is among the first to have set out proposals for a system that enables international travel to resume and should be applauded for taking the lead.

“After more than a year of almost total shutdown – and with so many jobs and so much economic value at stake – it’s really important we get people moving again once it is safe to do so.

“We now need Government to confirm the May 17 start date as soon as possible, along with the list of countries that fall into each ‘traffic light’ category.”

Mr Cornish said the price tag attached to testing will hold back the recovery.

He added: “The requirement to complete a PCR test on return from even the safest countries adds potentially unnecessary cost and the Government’s attention must now turn to finding smarter and more affordable ways to manage the risk posed by new variants of concern.

“COVID-19 is a global problem and requires a coordinated international response, not just in bringing the pandemic under control, but in developing solutions to enable a return to restriction-free travel between countries where there is a lower level of risk.

“The Government should also be looking to the UK’s world-leading vaccination programme as a means to remove further barriers to travel to as many destinations as possible.

“Only by setting ourselves on a course back to restriction-free travel now will the aviation industry find itself on a road to full recovery, unlocking the wider-ranging economic benefits that brings.” 

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